Bruges for Breakfast, Ghent for Lunch and Lille for Dinner
Bruges is a Venice of the North city
We arrived in Bruges on a chilly spring evening. The streets were almost deserted. It was a great time to grab some photos.
The historic centre of Bruges, with its magnificent medieval architecture, is a World Heritage Site. The Bruges City Hall is over 800 years old. Its flamboyant architecture reflects Bruges’ heyday as the most important commercial city in the world. Their thriving wool market blossomed when entrepreneurs introduced new financing methods with letters of credit and promissory notes. These innovations in financing brought a flood of capital to Bruges. The first stock exchange in the world opened in Bruges in 1309. Traders, weavers, bankers all thrived in Bruges. Their wealth attracted artists to Bruges who developed revolutionary painting styles in the Flemish School that visualized the physical world instead of the divine world.
Today, Bruges is a very popular tourist destination. Restoration of their medieval buildings brought a surge in international tourism.
On a warmer evening, we would not have had the streets to ourselves.
Enjoy a free belfry concert
The belfry in Bruges was built in the 13th century. It is the most famous landmark in Bruges.
The belfry has a carillon with 48 bells. The carillonneur gives free concerts.
The belfry in Bruges is one of 56 belfries in Belgium and France that were designated as a World Heritage Site. Belfries were built by towns to display their new wealth and influence. They became symbols of prosperity and power.
The belfries represent the birth of municipal power in the Middle Ages.
Where are the tourists?
Cold weather is not good for business!
This is the art of bobbin lacemaking
This is a picture that I took 20 years ago on our first trip to Bruges. It was a beautiful summer day. Because of the cold weather on this trip, there were no lace-making demonstrations. I’m glad that I found this old photo!
Bruges is famous for the art of bobbin lacemaking. The lace is made by braiding and twisting thread, which is wound on bobbins. As the piece of lace develops, it is held in place with pins on a special pillow.
Connoisseurs of antique lace flock to Bruges where there are still some bargains to be found.
Today, there is a resurgence in lace-making as a hobby. There are lace making groups all around the world.
Below is a short video: 8 seconds, no sound, that shows how needle lace is made. I took this video in Burano, an island off the coast of Venice, famous for the art of needle lacemaking. (This is a sneak peek at future posts)
This is the art of needle lacemaking
Burano specializes in the art of needle lace. This lace is created with nothing more than a needle and thread.
To start the piece, a paper pattern is used. When the piece is finished, the stay-stitches that hold the paper in place are cut and the paper separates from the lace.
Bruges is also famous for its handmade fresh chocolate. There are chocolate stores everywhere!
With chocolates in hand, we were in the car and on the road for 45 minutes to Ghent for our first visit to this medieval city.
Ghent is a magnificent medieval city
Ghent’s historic town centre is on the tentative World Heritage list. The belfry is Ghent is one of the 56 belfries already designated as a World Heritage Site. I would have climbed the belfry, but didn’t think I would see much in the hailstorm that swooped down on us soon after our arrival.
This medieval scene from St. Michael’s Bridge looks like a movie set for Harry Potter
Would you take a boat ride on the canal in a hail storm?
Northern Europe has suffered from an unseasonably wet and cold spring….. but a hail storm? This was just over the top!
We checked out the boat rides.
The boats were covered and heated…..two tickets please!
Don’t let a little hail stop you!
There were lots of end-of-year school trips in Ghent. The teens were decked out for a spring adventure, not hail. However, they were all laughing, joking, flirting and not minding Mother Nature’s weather joke.
Anyone for an umbrella?
Biking after the storm
The hailstorm did not last. Within minutes, those hearty Belgians were back on their bikes.
Ghent is a wonderful tourist site for strolling because its centre is the largest car-free area in Belgium. You just have to watch out for bikes!
I would like to return to Ghent and explore its wonderful medieval centre in better weather. A good time to return would be for the Festival of Flanders, an annual music festival in late summer:
After lunch, we were back in the car, heading off for our final stop in Belgium……the enchanted Blue Forest
An Enchanted Forest of Bluebells
Actually, we did not visit Hallerbos on the way from Ghent to Lille. The hail storm in Ghent was enough to dissuade me from taking a woodlands hike. Instead, we went a week later, on the return trip from Paris to Amsterdam. What a difference a week makes! We had beautiful spring sunshine.
For a few weeks in spring, the enchanted forest of Hallerbos, or Halle, is transformed into an ocean of deep periwinkle blue as far as the eye can see. Millions upon millions of bluebells blanket the forest floor. It is a stunning sight, more beautiful that my pictures can convey.
Hallerbos is a large forest, designed for a day of hiking along wooded trails. You need to stay on the trails, so as not to damage the delicate bluebell bulbs.
A Butterfly and a Bluebell is a beautiful picture!
There are many trails through the Blue Forest. Some trails are marked just for walking; some are just for biking; some are just for horse-riding.
Walking gives you the chance to capture a fleeting photo of a butterfly enjoying the sweet nectar of a bluebell on a beautiful spring day.
Planning your visit to an Enchanted Forest
Hallerbos is 60 kilometres from Ghent, 20 kilometres south of Brussels. It is just off the ring road that surrounds Brussels.
We set our trusty GPS to take us to the forest entrance. Her name is Jane. However, our GPS did not realize that the bridge on the road leading to Hallerbos was closed for repairs. We could not drive to the entrance that is closest to the area best known for bluebells. Instead, we walked into the forest from the other side. I absolutely loved the oceans of bluebells that were everywhere.
We did not make it to the designated area. We did not have the time. It is a 6 kilometre hike. It is a beautiful winding road through the woods. It would have been a lovely hike if we had budgeted more time for the Blue Forest. This visit needs at least half a day.
We had no flexibility to stay longer in the Blue Forest because we already had hotel reservations…..and I was really hungry and there were no restaurants. I guess I was expecting something like Keukenhof, with restaurants and a tourist shop. This was more rustic.
Bring your own picnic, bring your hiking shoes and enjoy a beautiful day in an enchanted forest of bluebells. Plan ahead, as the bluebells are in bloom for just a short time in spring.
Mother nature determines the blooming season for bluebells. The Hallerbos website posts daily photos and updates on peak blooming times. This is a great way to plan your visit for optimal bluebell conditions.
Do you like to book hotels in advance so that you are assured of a place to stay or do you like to wing it so that you can stay as long as you like when you stumble upon something wonderful?
Lille is a charming destination
Lille is in France, just across the border from Belgium. It is a one-hour drive from Ghent and the Blue Forest.
If you don’t have a car, Lille is easy to get to by train. It is a major stop on the London to Paris Eurostar, the high-speed train that travels at 300 kilometres per hour.
A flower market in the town square makes it easy to imagine how your garden will grow
We left Lille after breakfast for our next destination: Versailles. This is a two and a half hour drive.
Along the way, there were magnificent field of rapeseed in bloom. The colour of the fields is almost luminescent yellow. Rapeseed is grown for its oil. Honeybees are attracted to rapeseed because it produces lots of nectar. It is called canola in Canada. Canada is the largest producer of rapeseed in the world.